by Staff Writers
New York City, United Nations (AFP) July 10, 2013
Taiwan hopes to become an observer member of the UN's international aviation agency this year and ease its isolation imposed by China.
An International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assembly in September is expected to vote on Taiwan's status, diplomats said.
China, which traditionally seeks to stifle any recognition of the island it considers part of its territory awaiting reunification, has so far not expressed opposition.
And Taiwan's campaign has been boosted by a bill passed by the US House of Representatives in June which called for US government backing for Taipei at the ICAO.
The European parliament passed a similar measure in 2010.
"I strongly hope that Taiwan will become an observer this year," said Brian Su, deputy director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, one of Taiwan's key diplomatic missions in North America.
"The US expressed a strong signal to the ICAO," he told AFP.
The move would have air safety and political dimensions, Su said.
Taiwan was a founding member of the ICAO but was thrown out in 1971 when it lost its UN seat to China.
Now despite more than one million flights carrying 40 million passengers in and out of Taiwan each year, Su said its ICAO status is a "safety loophole" as it cannot communicate with the international aviation watchdog.
There are now 400 flights between Taiwan and the United States each week and 1,200 between the island and mainland China, according to government figures.
The start of visa-free travel to the United States has increased the passenger load.
It currently takes two months for Taiwan's aviation information to get to other governments.
"That is very dangerous for flight safety," said Su.
"We need to stick to the regulations and the standards of ICAO, especially in anti-terrorism. We should share the flight information."
Taiwan has been anxiously seeking ways to regain international recognition since it lost its UN seat. President Ma Ying-jeou has dramatically improved ties with Beijing since he first took power in 2008.
It secured observer status at the UN World Health Organization's decision-making assembly in 2009 and if successful at the ICAO, it would like to also join the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Observer status at the 191-member ICAO would be an "accomplishment" for Ma's efforts and "showcase how Taiwan can use soft power to win international recognition," said Su.
A diplomatic source said the United States or a European government could take the lead in proposing Taiwan for observer membership at the ICAO assembly starting September 24.
"So far there is no negative sign from Beijing," said the diplomat.
Asked about Taiwan's application to the ICAO, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said this week: "The Chinese government pays high attention to the welfare of Taiwanese people and we understand their willingness to join relevant international organizations.
"Taiwan's willingness to join the ICAO is an issue for the Chinese. As long it will not create a situation of 'two Chinas' or 'one China and one Taiwan,' it can be properly solved through rational consultation across the Straits."
The ICAO keeps to "the one-China policy of the United Nations," said a spokesman, Anthony Philbin, when asked about moves around Taiwan. Mainland China is recognized as "the only legitimate representative of China to the ICAO."
Taiwan News at SinoDaily.com
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